Butternut Squash and Fennel Soup

I always tell my students that making soup is one of the easiest things to do. It's great on a wintry night, it's elegant as a first course for a dinner party, and it's a great way to sneak more vegetables into your diet.

Soup should follow the season - creamy asparagus soup in the spring, a cold zucchini soup in the summer, a hearty soup with roasted peppers in the fall, and something with winter squash in the winter. Butternut squash is my favorite, but you could also use another squash or pumpkin in this recipe. Add some heavy cream if you're feeling decadent, or leave it out if you've already made diet resolutions for the new year. The fennel adds a nice background flavor to the soup, but you can also make it without the fennel and fennel seeds.

Butternut Squash and Fennel Soup
Serves 6

1 pound butternut squash, cubed
3 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed and cubed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
4 cloves garlic
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
2 teaspoons fennel seed, toasted and ground
salt, to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss squash and fennel with olive oil and spread out on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Liberally salt and pepper, then roast until the edges begin to brown, about 20 minutes. Add garlic cloves to the baking sheet and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Remove vegetables from oven and transfer to a medium saucepan. Add onion, chicken stock and fennel seed and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes for flavors to combine. Remove from heat and puree soup. (A stick blender or immersion blender is really handy for pureeing hot soups.) Salt to taste and add heavy cream if using.

Note: You can also make this soup by just simmering all the vegetables in the stock until tender and then pureeing the soup, but I like the depth of flavor you get from roasting the vegetables.

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